Michigan vs. Ohio State prediction: Take the underdog

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For the first time in five years, “The Game” matches its billing. The event looms so large that Ryan Day veered from coach-speak, admitting to looking ahead to Ohio State’s trip to Michigan in the middle of a blowout win against Michigan State.

“Everything is riding on this thing coming up right around the corner,” Day said last weekend. “The [Michigan State] game wasn’t even over yet and I was already thinking about [Michigan].”

“The Game” is the most obnoxious nickname attached to any rivalry, an arrogant title unbefitting of its Midwestern roots. The name became more ridiculous because of the one-sided nature of the matchups. Ohio State has won 15 of the past 16 meetings with Michigan, including eight straight. Jim Harbaugh hasn’t beaten the Buckeyes since taking over his alma mater. Only once in the past eight years — Ohio State’s de facto playoff double-overtime win in 2016 — has “The Game” been decided by single-digits.

But for the first time in five years, it is the nation’s most important game. The winner claims the Big Ten East and moves one win from the playoff. The loser heads home until receiving a second-tier bowl invitation.

At this time last week, sportsbooks had Ohio State as low as a 4.5-point favorite over Michigan, with no spread surpassing six points. After the 56-7 beatdown of Michigan State, Ohio State is now an 8.5-point favorite. C.J. Stroud leads the best offense in the nation, but the line jump is an overreaction, born from a mismatch with the worst secondary in the country. It has been less than a month since Ohio State posted single-digit wins against Penn State and Nebraska.

C.J. Stroud and Aidan Hutchinson
C.J. Stroud and Aidan Hutchinson
Getty Images; AP

The relentless pass rush of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, combined with the Wolverines’ eighth-ranked pass defense, will present the greatest challenge Stroud has ever seen. The trip to Ann Arbor presents the toughest atmosphere the Buckeyes have faced in two years.

Michigan (+8.5) may not pull the upset, but it will make “The Game” worth watching until the very end.

RUTGERS (+1.5) over Maryland

The winner of the Big Ten’s Cable Box Bowl earns a trip to an official bowl of similar esteem. I’m not banking on the coach-quarterback combo of Turtle and Johnny Drama to break the Terps’ five-year bowl drought.

GEORGIA TECH (+35.5) over Georgia

The Bulldogs’ wire-to-wire dominance has made it unnecessary to chase style points. Georgia has only beaten one Power Five team by more than 37 points — technically, Vanderbilt is considered as such — and the top-ranked team’s past five SEC games have been won by an average of 25 points. The game will be iced early. The stars can stay on the sideline. The focus is already on next week’s SEC title game against Alabama.

Texas Tech (+14.5) over BAYLOR

After face-planting against one of the nation’s best defenses, Texas Tech should come closer to resembling the attack which put up 41 points against Iowa State the week prior, while Baylor’s ceiling is capped by uncertainty at QB.

MICHIGAN STATE (+1.5) over Penn State

So, it’s not a smart idea to offer a 10-year, $95 million contract to a coach with a 16-13 career record? If Kenneth Walker III gets less than seven carries for a second straight week, Mel Tucker shouldn’t even get his headset back.

Kenneth Walker III
Kenneth Walker III
Getty Images

AUBURN (+19.5) over Alabama

The defending champs share little in common with Nick Saban’s dynasty, holding three single-digit wins and a loss in SEC play despite the play of Heisman co-favorite Bryce Young. The Tide have looked their worst away from Tuscaloosa, and no building gives them more trouble than Jordan-Hare Stadium, where the Tigers have pulled the upset in three of the past four Iron Bowls played at Auburn.

Wisconsin (-6.5) over MINNESOTA

The opening chapters of a college football season offer little hints of how it will end. The Badgers, who began the season 1-3, have won seven straight games. Freshman Braelon Allen, a standout defensive recruit, is now one of the nation’s most dominant running backs. Wisconsin hasn’t lost since letting Allen lead the team in carries, with the 17-year-old leading all Power Five running backs in rushing yards (1,013) and touchdowns (11) in the seven-game span.

LSU (+6) over Texas A&M

The Tigers have been a different team since announcing Ed Orgeron’s imminent departure, nearly upsetting Alabama and Arkansas behind blitz-heavy efforts, which should bother struggling backup Zach Calzada. The Aggies should consider it a win if Jimbo Fisher travels home with the team — and without another extension.

SYRACUSE (+13) over Pittsburgh

An underrated home-field edge and underrated defense will allow the Orange to keep it interesting, a la previous close losses at the Carrier Dome to Wake Forest and Clemson.

OKLAHOMA STATE (-4) over Oklahoma

Like Michigan, Oklahoma State has been tortured by its archenemy in recent years. Mike Gundy is 2-14 all-time against the Sooners. Lincoln Riley has never lost to the Cowboys. But this year will be different. The spread accurately reflects that. In past years, Gundy tried to win shootouts, but his’s defense will put the Cowboys one win from a first-ever playoff berth. Caleb Williams’ regression has coincided with the freshman’s first matchups against quality defenses. Oklahoma State’s third-ranked defense will force Riley to send freshman QB Caleb Williams back to the bench again.

STANFORD (+18.5) over Notre Dame

The Irish are peaking, covering every game in their six-game win streak and allowing zero touchdowns since October. The Cardinal have collapsed, losing six straight games — failing to cover each one — since upsetting Oregon. To adhere to contrarian dogma means picking the ugliest and most unpopular side imaginable, to believe in a team you don’t believe has any chance to come through.

Byu (-7) over USC

After posting just one losing season from 1992-2017, USC will finish under .500 for the second time in four years despite playing in the country’s weakest power conference. If USC just laid down and allowed 62 points against rival UCLA, how will the league’s worst defense — allowing 32.3 points per game — get motivated for this emotion-free matchup with minimal stakes?

Best bets: Texas Tech, Auburn, Oklahoma State
This season (best bets): 85-92-3 (20-15-1)
2014-20 record: 904-866-15

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